Reseña: controversial libro sobre Jesus- “Zealot” por Aslan

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Si usted ha visto algo de las noticias en USA habra escuchado de la pubicación del libro Zealot The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth por Reza Aslan. El libro es el más reciente publicaión dirigida al consumo popular de la figura de Jesus. Ya es constombre dentro del ciclo de publicaciones anuales que libros salgan con gran fanfarria proclamando alguna nueva interpretacion de la identidad de Jesús. Pero lo curioso de este libro es que la controversia que desató no la provoca su contenido, por más passé que sea. Sino por una entrevista en Fox News (algunos la llaman la peor entrevista de la historia) donde se le cuestiona al autor por qué, si él es musulman, escribe un libro acerca de Jesús.

romani ite domum

Pero lo que me interesa es citar uno de las pocas resenciones academicas del libro para nuestro beneficio. Escrita por Le Donne, uno de los expertos mundiales en el Jesús historico. Y la reseña es como un vasito de agua hirviendo en un día de calor.

A continuación cito in extenso a Anthony Le Donne en The Jesus Blog:

“Reza Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is an attempt to rehabilitate the *Jesus as a failed military revolutionary* argument that is well-known and well-worn in Jesus studies.  Aslan suggests that Jesus’ regional affiliations (Galilean militants), his enigmatic statement about Roman taxation ( ROMANES EUNT DOMUS ROMANI ITE DOMUM), attempts to keep his “messianic” aspirations a secret (a retread of Aslan’s undergraduate senior thesis), and a few of Jesus’ statements about social discord make him a good fit as a proto-Zealot.  There’s more to his case, but almost every suggestion he makes in support of his thesis is as tenuous as the four mentioned here.
The strongest element of his case is the fact of the crucifixion. The fact that Jesus was executed as “King of the Jews” suggests that at least some Roman authorities recognized him as a political insurgent.  But this is not nearly enough to build the case that Aslan is trying to build: that Jesus was probably preparing his disciples for a militant uprising.
To be taken seriously on this point, Aslan would have to interact with David Chapman and/or Gunnar Samuelsson.  These scholars represent the most up-to-date researchers on the crucifixion in Jesus’ world.  Aslan cites neither.  If this key element of the book had been researched with more care, Aslan might have had a better chance of overcoming the many other deficiencies of this book.
Jesus’ preaching about God’s kingdom is undoubtedly political.  It makes sense that this teaching was directly related to the title posted on the cross (and/or the symbolic value of that title in Christian memory).  This much is not all that controversial.  Defining “political” is the key problem.  Reza Aslan’s book barely touches the vast sea of literature on this problem.  In short, this book is a surface-level (albeit well-promoted) rehash of an old puzzle in Jesus research.  Unfortunately, Aslan brings nothing new to the table that will help us solve the puzzle. He simply dismisses all of Jesus’ sayings about nonviolence as Christian invention.  This move isn’t unheard of, but he fails to make his case for invention adequately.
What has made this book controversial is not what Aslan says in the book.  What makes this book controversial is that many “Jesus consumers” (I just coined that phrase and I’m pretty proud of myself) are uncomfortable with Jesus books written by other-than-traditional-Christian authors.  Indeed, much has been make about Aslan’s lack of credentials, but was C.S. Lewis’ claim to expertise any different? [Insert your favorite Narnia joke here.]  —No—  Aslan might be guilty of inflating his résumé, but this is not what made the book controversial.  Sadly, I would welcome more other-than-traditional-Christian scholars in the field.  I really wish that I could endorse this book if for no other reason than to promote diversity.  I am convinced that the American news media’s fascination with Christian-Muslim relations has overshadowed the merits of Aslan’s thesis… or lack thereof.
Aslan demonstrates on about every third page that he is not conversant with recent literature on Second Temple Judaism. There can be no doubt that Aslan is “kind of a big deal” (looking at you Lauren Green), but his appeals to first-century politics and religion relative to Jesus are superficial or misguided more often than not.Here are a few examples.  This list is nowhere near comprehensive.

1) Our best historical reconstruction is that the Zealots were not a unified or an ideologically homogenous sect during Jesus’ time.  If Aslan’s thesis holds water (that is a big *if*, mind you), he would do better to use the term “proto-Zealot” or something of the like.  Aslan does eventually acknowledge that the term is problematic, but settles on this category error anyway.
2) Aslan writes that the Jews in Jerusalem observed “a direct commandment from a jealous God who tolerated no foreign presence in the land he had set aside for his chosen people. That is why when the Jews first came to this land a thousand years earlier, God decreed that they massacre every single man, woman, and child they encountered, that they slaughter every ox, goat, and sheep they came across, that they burn every farm, every field, every crop, every living thing without exception so as to ensure the land would belong solely to those who worshiped this one God and no other.”  Even a cursory reading of the prophet Isaiah will show the complexity of this problem.  Moreover, the secondary literature on this topic is gargantuan and Aslan cites none of it.  This not only smacks of laziness, but it is a laziness that has the potential to create misgivings among those who identify with modern Judaism.
3) Aslan repeatedly calls Jesus a “magician”. This is another category error betraying Aslan’s lack of research. The term “magician” or “goēs” is always a derogatory term in Jesus’ context. It would be analogous to calling someone a “trouble maker”. Aslan uses the terms magic and magician over and over again as if these terms carry the same denotative value that they carry in contemporary use. This gaffe might seem trivial, but it is symptomatic of Aslan’s general lack of care.
4) He writes: “The reason exorcisms were so commonplace in Jesus’ time is because the Jews viewed illness as a manifestation either of divine judgment or of demonic activity.” This is only half incorrect, only half of the time.  Some Jews during Jesus’ time did view illness in terms of judgment and/or demonic activity. But not all Jews thought this way and not every instance of illness fell into these two simplistic categories.
5) Aslan speaks of the extravagance of the temple cult in Jerusalem.  This is an important discussion and deserves a better explanation than Aslan provides.  He overextends his claims about the burden of expense of the sacrificial system. He argues that the animals designated for sacrifice were of extravagant cost. “This is not the time for thrift,” he writes.  But Aslan fails to emphasize the accommodation that the priesthood made for impoverished worshipers.
6) Aslan writes: “To declare oneself the messiah at the time of the Roman occupation, therefore, was tantamount to declaring open war on Rome.”  This is typical of the many overstatements in Zealot.  See my statements about the “kingdom of God” above.
7) Aslan writes: “Herod was a convert, after all. His mother was Arab. His people, the Idumeans, had come to Judaism only a generation or two earlier.”  Which is it? Was Herod a convert or did his grandparents consider themselves children of Israel?  Aslan cites no other evidence of Herod’s supposed conversion.
8) Aslan places a great deal of weight on his adaptation of Wrede’s “messianic secret”.  Any discussion of this age-old puzzle must deal with David F. Watson’s book about honor and shame.  Aslan’s understanding of this subject is badly outmoded.
9) Aslan deals haphazardly and insufficiently with one of the most debated topics in historical Jesus research: the title “Son of Man”. He writes: “In employing the definite form of the phrase, Jesus was using it in a wholly new and unprecedented way: as a title, not as an idiom. Simply put, Jesus was not calling himself “a son of man.” He was calling himself The Son of Man.”  Aslan does not demonstrate even a passable knowledge of the secondary literature which is massive and manifold.  On a personal note, I’ve been reading on this topic for over a decade now and I still feel unqualified to chime in.  Aslan treats this topic as if nothing new has been advanced since the early 1980s and most of his citations are from the 1960s and 70s.
I’m all tuckered out, so this will be my last correction.
10) Aslan is woefully unprepared to discuss Second Temple politics.  Given that Aslan’s book is about Second Temple politics, this is a problem.  Aslan almost treats Josephus’ historical accounts as courtroom transcripts.  This is to say that Aslan’s approach to Josephus is entirely uncritical. Lamentably, Aslan leans heavily on Josephus in almost every chapter and never cites the world’s leading expert on Josephus: Steve Mason.   There are many, many omissions in this book, but this is the most glaring to my eye.  Reading even a single book by Mason might have changed the results of Aslan’s thesis dramatically.  Indeed, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth could only have been written by someone entirely unaware of the most recent and widely respected scholarship on Second Temple Judaism.
Without exaggeration, problems like this surface on about every third page.  I’ve only listed ten.

I would like to conclude on a positive note: Reza Aslan’s book will get a great deal of press, but will not win the day. This process will (please God!) result in a better understanding of Jesus’ nonviolent albeit complex and perplexing approach to imperialism.  On this note, I wait eagerly for Simon Joseph’s book The Nonviolent Messiah: Jesus, Q, and the Enoch Tradition.”